Veterans of Color Deserve More than a Salute.
I am the proud daughter of a 33-year career Navy veteran, Lt. Cmdr. Earl Ross Baker. The photo shows the cherished display case with his military medals. In my first book, An Unintentional Accomplice: A Personal Perspective on White Responsibility, I wrote about the pageantry of daily flag ceremonies for the children of the neighborhood led by my father. When I think back on those post-WWII days, I’m reminded of who I am and where I come from. I feel pride when I see the flag, and goosebumps when I hear the national anthem. These two important symbols signify respect and loyalty towards my country. But there is a grievous wrong that must be acknowledged and repaired.
I was shocked to learn that the VA-backed mortgages and the economic opportunities of homeownership my family enjoyed were not awarded to veterans of color. The VA backed the low-interest GI mortgages, but they did not administer them. The state and local white-run financial institutions, therefore, had free reign to refuse mortgages and loans to veterans of color. The result was the G.I. Bill of Rights did not apply equally to veterans of color who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. This was, by definition, institutional racism.
These practices are today illegal, thanks to the Fair Housing Act of 1968. But look at this: when the Civil Liberties Act was signed in 1988, it was accompanied by a formal apology and $20K for Japanese internment camp survivors and their heirs; in 2004 the State of Virginia established the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Fund for GED classes, community college, four-year degrees, and master’s programs available to any Virginia residents who were locked out of public schools between 1954 and 1964 when the schools closed to avoid desegregation; in 2016, the Jesuit order of Georgetown University formally apologized to the descendants of 272 slaves sold in 1838 to pay the university’s debts, and preferential admissions are now given to the descendants of those slaves; and billionaire Robert Smith paid off all the students loans of the 2019 Morehouse graduating class. These are examples of completely feasible federal, state, and private reparations.
Veterans of color and their heirs are owned much more than a salute and a “thank you for your service” in 2020. It’s time for truth-telling and accountability for systemic racism once leveled against these servicemen and women of color. Similar to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, this accountability must include a formal apology and specific economic actions of repair. At a minimum, reparations should include cash to all veterans of color and their heirs who were denied property ownership, and free college preparatory tutoring and tuition for themselves and their heirs.
This Veteran’s Day, let our nation move forward to accountability for the dis-service done to the 1.2 million men and women of color who served in WWII, and in Korea, and Vietnam. Award these veterans their full GI Bill of Rights, as promised. True patriotism, respect, and loyalty require nothing less. With much love and respect.